A News Story with Book Inspiration Potential

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

My husband sends me strange links and records off the wall TV programs for me because he knows how I think about story inspiration. Sometimes a news story could fill out a back story of a character or become the main action or mystery behind a book. Recently he sent me this LINK. This story came from Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy. Who doesn’t love a cold case murder mystery?
 
Especially one that has a double twist.
 

Sayre OK news story faces
Jimmy Williams, Leah Johnson, Michael Rios


 
You would think that discovering the skeletal remains of three teens (who were thought to have run away in 1970) in a rusted car at the bottom of a lake would be interesting enough. How did their car end up in the lake? Why weren’t they found until now? Rumors had run rampant. Locals speculated that the three teens had stumbled upon a drug deal at a rural airstrip and been killed with their bodies dumped, never to be found. Some folks thought the kids ran away to California, never to be heard of again. Most people who knew the kids suspected foul play, but leads went nowhere.
 
Police found a vehicle (a 1969 Camaro believed to belong to one of the missing kids) while conducting a routine diver training exercise at Foss lake, 100 miles west of Oklahoma City. Score one for the home team. But if that wasn’t enough, the over-achievers found a SECOND car, containing two to three more bodies. (Ew, that they don’t know if they have two or three bodies. That doesn’t mean poor math skills. It could mean they only have “parts.”)
 

Sayre OK news story
Foss Lake outside OKC – Crime Scene


 
All the skeletal remains are likely connected to missing persons reports that are still open and unsolved. Unrelated, presumably. The teens were on their way to a high school football game and went missing in 1970. The second vehicle, thought to belong to John Albert Porter, most probably carries the remains of another man and a woman. The grandson of Porter feels certain the find solves the case of what happened to his grandfather.
 
Both cars were found submerged in twelve feet of water, fifty feet from the end of a boat ramp near the marina. I’m not sure how both vehicles would have ended up fifty feet from the end of a boat ramp. Talk about taking a wrong turn?! Lakes in Oklahoma can be filled with sediment due to the red clay soils. They would make excellent training cases for police divers, but tough for anyone looking for six missing people, apparently.
 
The bones were sent to the Medical Examiner’s office for determination of cause of death. You can’t just presume drowning, but without flesh on the bones and with all the abrasive sediment, that can’t be an easy job. If the bodies can be identified, that could give six families closure.

 
But a writer can conjure all sorts of other explanations for a story like this one. Who would’ve wanted to see the kids dead? What had they witnessed? With two cars in the lake, who was using the red dirt lake for a body dump site? Without the flesh on the bones, what if someone in the area was harvesting organs to sell on the black market?
 
So what do YOU think happened? How would you spin this emotional gut wrenching story for the two vehicles?

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27 thoughts on “A News Story with Book Inspiration Potential

  1. MINE! That’s my story! Rats.
    But the good news is five hundred writers can tell a different story from this one news article.

    When my cousin sent me a clip from BBC about Foss Lake a few weeks ago, my imagination went straight to overdrive. Obviously a local serial killer, undetected and living amongst the unsuspecting Oklahomians. (Do the residents of Oklahoma like to be called Okies?) Hmmm. Not much of a serial killer if he/she only strikes twice in twenty/thirty years.

    How big is the community around Foss Lake? Feuds?

    Because surely those familiar with the area aren’t going to simply drive off the dock. Teenagers are known to be impulsive but I doubt a young lad with his first brand new Camaro is going to do anything to that car other than wash and wax it. And what about the older car and its three occupants? Not a daredevil crowd, I wouldn’t think.

    Very interesting. I wish I lived closer to Oklahoma. I’d be all over that story.

    BTW, enjoyed the way this post was written. Just the odd word here and there that made me smile, even though it’s a gruesome story. The “overachievers” bit. And the “Eww” because you’re right…they don’t know how many bodies because decades old remains don’t stay intact.

    Sounds macabre, but this is a great start to my day. Now I feel guilty for even writing that last line. Those poor people. It’s one thing to enjoy writing fiction, another to get all excited about someone’s very real misfortune.

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    • This news story pulled me in when I read it. I lived in OK for ten years. I use the word “Okies” to describe my buddies. Like the song says, ” I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee…”

      Like you, I reigned back a bit on this post in deference to the families dealing with this tragedy so many years later. Very strange story, compounded by BOTH cars found near the same spot. Would make an interesting mystery for a small town to unravel.

      Happy writing, Amanda.

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  2. If I were the police, I’d try to figure out what that location looked like 30 years ago. Those cars were WAY out in the water. Did they drift over time? Was there something back then that could have made drivers get confused? Lots to look into there.

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    • Great idea. I saw a subsequent aerial photo of the ramp and the crime scene. The ramp looks like a normal road through the area, but I bet the water drops out fast, to make it a good ramp for offloading a boat.

      I imagined both cars hitting the ramp with the driver not realizing they were on a wrong road until they hit the water. No seat belt law back then, maybe they were knocked unconscious on impact. That murky water would be scary. You couldn’t tell which way is up.

      Maybe the sediment kept them from opening the doors to get out, but I wondered about the windows, if they were power or manual.

      Each car had 3 passengers, but not one of them survived? Not even the one in the backseat? Bucket seats in the Camaro. Very strange for the same thing to happen to both cars a year apart.

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  3. Maybe they were drag racing and ended up on the wrong road. Or one car bumped the other in an accident. It’s very strange that two cars would end up there.

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    • The people disappeared at different times, a year apart. Strange that the same type of accident happened to both of them. Thinking about these people, I can really scare myself imagining how this occurred. I hope they didn’t suffer.

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  4. I love things like that. Several years ago in Southeast Alaska, a small float plane was taking off when a whale breached right in front of it. The plane banked and narrowly missed the whale. I’d love to use that in a story somehow.

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    • Are you from Alaska, Eric? I used to live up there – 10 years. I still love writing about it.

      What a great story about a near collision with a whale! Bush pilots are crazy anyway. I can certainly hear that pilot telling his tale.

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    • Yes, I live in Fairbanks and grew up in Anchorage, mostly, with shorter stints in Soldotna, Kodiak, and Wasilla. Where did you live?

      I used to want to avoid writing about Alaska, having grown up here. But now I realize it’s a mine of great ideas, like the plane-breaching whale incident. I’ve been collecting items like that for years and figuring out ways to incorporate them into stories.

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    • Well howdy fellow Alaskan. I am from Fairbanks and Salcha , moved to Palmer and now live in Anchorage. Have to chat with you some time about the Alaska Writers Guild.

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  5. My first thought when I saw this story: Norman Bates/Anthony Perkins disposing of Ms. Crane/Janet Leigh in Psycho. And she wasn’t the only one…

    Second thought: many years ago here in Seattle a young woman went missing on her way home late one night, much like the teenagers on the way to the football game. No one could figure out what happened to her. Not a trace anywhere, not even her car. When the new I-90 floating bridge was constructed her and her vehicle were found at the bottom of Lake Washington. It was quite a shocker; nobody was suspecting that outcome. It was determined that she had accidentally run off the bridge, most likely having lost control on a curve. I found it amazing that nobody noticed the accident. Which reminds me…Jordan – how is your Seattle setting working out?

    I’m always amazed that people drive off roads, docks, or bridges, but living in an area surrounded by water I can attest that they certainly do.

    I’d love to see the visual of the float plane just missing the breaching whale.

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    • Hey Catfriend. Yeah, I’d love to see that whale shot too. FREAKY. I’ve flown in many of those small planes in AK and those trips can be amazing…and scary.

      I can see how cold cases get under the skin of a detective. You have virtually nothing to go on, except for your driven curiosity and a passion to give closure to the families. Imagine a loved one there one day, then gone the next. Frightening.

      My Seattle/AK based story is going great. About 60% done and my new agent is peddling it now. Tick tock. You know how that goes. I should be done by the time it finds a home. It’s a very dark story, written in first POV for the lead character and 3rd for the rest of the cast. I love the intimacy of 1st POV, especially in the head of an FBI profiler in a psychological thriller. I scare myself.

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    • JD, I am reading A Beautiful Heist by Kim Foster and she used the same mix of 3rd and 1st POV. The book is at the very least hysterical. However, I have always been under the impression that this kind of POV mix is sure death. Of course, you’ve got the bones for this. This was Foster’s first book, and I waaay to green to attempt it myself. So how’s that working out for you?

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  6. Mythbusters did a couple episodes about how to escape from a submerged car–one right way up, the other upside down, since cars tend to flip when they hit the water. It’s almost impossible to do unless you know to hold your breath for the minute and thirty seconds it takes for the pressure to equalize.

    Two cars with missing bodies in them? Too big of a coincidence to brush off as anything but … Murder!!

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    • Murder indeed, Kessie. I liked the organ harvesting angle myself. After you see how hard it is to get out of a submerged vehicle, make you want to steer clear of high water. Scary.

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  7. I was fascinated by that story, too. I live in Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park Blvd. is a mile from my house. On TV last week, there was a story about a woman whose car went off I-95 near the Oakland Park exit, flipped, and ended in a canal. If another driver hadn’t seen her and pulled her out, she would have drowned. All I could think of was: What canal? Nine years I’ve lived here and didn’t realize there was water near that exit.
    As Sherlock said, “You see, but you do not observe.”

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    • I saw TV footage on a rescue of a guy trapped in his car in Colorado during their flooding. Rushing water and rescuers were at risk when the car fell onto one of them. They got the guy out, but the video was AMAZING. That water was probably very cold. The road caved in and washed away as people were driving on it. Imagine that.

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  8. There are a few possibilities I think should be looked at here.

    1. As others have said the drug deal angle. Since the car was so far out some other conveyance, such as a boat perhaps, to tow it further from prying eyes.

    2. They came across an occult sacrificial ceremony and happened to fit the needs for sacrifice to the Drowned God and Beast Who Dwells Beneath the Waves pulled them into the water from the boat launch.

    3. The drivers had been investigating and odd sparkling effect in the air when they were zapped through a wormhole that fired them back in time. Lost and confused they unexpectedly found themselves being chased by a horde of surprised mammoth hunters who chased them across the prairie. In the distance they see the same sparkling in the air and speed toward it hoping to find that it is the other end of the wormhole. The unlucky passengers materialize back in their own time, only to discover that what had been a flat prairie thousands of years ago now contained a lake, and they sunk to the bottom.

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  9. Okay, I have to confess, the first time I saw the tape, I thought, “Damn, that’s a ’69 Camaro!” That’s what I learned to drive in.

    A couple of things, the lake is very low right now after several years of drought. Only 12 feet deep when they were found. The lake was likely a lot bigger back then, so they likely drifted.

    As for cause? They are in some serious boonies out there, they don’t cotton to outsiders. I would say they stumbled into something they shouldn’t have and were dumped there. It wouldn’t surprise me if they find more out there. I mean, hell, they found a farm with a mess of bodies stuffed into drums just up the highway from me. We take our mayhem seriously out here.

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  10. Well, that’s really gross. Leave it to the country boys and girls, eh? So I remember what I think was a Westlake story about a submerged town after the valley was flooded by a dam. Inside the submerged school was the loot from a big bank heist. However the criminals had been in jail for ten years. When they returned to get the loot after being released from jail, the discover that they will need diving gear.

    Does anyone remember the title? And was this a Donald Westlake story? Or is my mind playing tricks on me…again?

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